My Son Wears Dresses: You Curious?
By Erica Ehm
My son likes to wear dresses. There, I’ve said it. Since he was a toddler, he’s been attracted to all things beautiful. At dress up parties, while the boys were putting on evil monster costumes, my son got lost in the pastel colours and silky fabrics of princess gowns. It was cute. When he turned five, it became uncomfortable.
If you knew me at all, you’d know I am the most liberal, free spirited person in North Toronto. I cherish my son’s individual taste and his well-developed imagination. His penchant for pretty said to me he had a highly developed esthetic sensibility. I believe my son has the makings of an artist.
Around me, the reactions were very different. Clusters of family members began to display discomfort for my son’s preferences. What started as whispers amongst each other became a series of warnings. I was told I was “damaging Josh by letting him wear dresses. I was confusing him. I was turning him gay”. The situation was getting ugly and spiraling out of control.
The rest of the family was appalled at this attitude. They were more concerned with my son’s wellbeing. “He’s just expressing himself. It’s just a stage. It will pass”.
Battle lines were drawn. My husband and I were caught in the middle.
Josh knew something was up. He had been told several times from “helpful” family members that dressing up was inappropriate for a boy. He did it anyway. But there was an increasing secrecy in his behaviour accompanied by anxiety. I was worried.
My husband was torn. Half of him wanted my son to feel free to express himself. But there was a greater concern that his son display more male behaviour. That’s when our fights started. My son’s love of dresses started to affect our family dynamic and our marriage. We had to take some action.
I asked around amongst my yummy mummy girlfriends, and a child psychologist was highly recommended. A month later my husband and I sat in her office, a box of Kleenex close at hand.
After hearing about our emotionally charged situation, she spoke. “Your son needs to stop wearing dressing immediately.” I was shocked. “What? What about his imagination? His individuality? His love of all things beautiful?” I grabbed another Kleenex .
She explained that one of the ways children understand their place in society is the way they dress. At his age, wearing dresses isn’t socially acceptable behaviour and warned he would likely become a pariah amongst his school friends. The fact that he was anxious while dressing girly also didn’t sit well with her. What he needed, she prescribed, was for us to give him firm guidelines with an explanation. To satisfy his artist self, she suggested we provide Josh with a box of art materials so he can design, draw and write about dresses to his hearts content. Female clothing was fine as long as it was on paper and not on his body
I wiped my tears, my husband drew a sigh of relief and we went home to chat with him.
“Josh”, I said, paraphrasing the psychologist’s words. “What would you think if you saw a fireman wearing a dress? Or, what if your teacher wore her pajamas to school? You’d think that’s strange, right? We wear clothes so people understand who we are. You’re a boy so you need to wear boy’s clothes. So no more dresses, ok?”
I swear I saw relief pass over his face. He smiled, said, “OK”, and jumped off the bed. It was that simple.
It’s been two months and Josh hasn’t gone near a dress since. He’s happier, less moody and more playful. And so am I.
PS, If anybody out there needs some slightly used princess dresses size 6, let me know